When Keyes to Learning Principal Lee Ann Stangl launched one of the state’s first charter schools in 1995 there was a lot of resistance to the idea, but she remained steadfast to her belief that parents and students wanted a choice in education — something that was not readily available at the time.
Choice in education is now at the forefront in national news and Stangl was diligently working behind the scenes in the mid 1990s.
“At the time there weren’t a lot of choices unless you had the money for private schools,” said Stangl.
The concept of choice and a commitment to increasing parental involvement in a child’s education were the founding principles of KTL — something Stangl incorporated from the very beginning.
KTL teacher Vikki Harmon has worked with Stangl for 16 years. She said Stangl was an innovator and has always had a deep love of learning and teaching.
“She has always had a desire to educate and to give families the opportunity to be part of their child’s education,” Harmon said.
When KTL was launched it combined K-8 home-schooling with independent study. Now the school offers hybrid schooling, along with home schooling for K-12 students, and this year it opened its Key Academy Turlock location for 7-12 students.
In 1973 Stangl earned her teaching credential, and began her career at Julien Elementary in Turlock. She later moved to Keyes Union School District where she worked part-time for nearly two decades while raising her three children. In the early 90s she returned to full-time teaching, and in 1995 she launched KTL.
“It was very controversial because it was new and something different,” she said.
Over the years Stangl said she has seen all the extremes in the world of education and she is critical of the current focus on standardized, state-wide testing.
“I think we put too much energy into the test and there are good points and bad points to the testing,” she said.
At the heart of her argument is that children are being taught for the test and not for the purpose of becoming educated.
“Of course you have to test to see if the students are learning, but I feel learning should be the focus not the test. But the difficult thing is putting a value on learning and parental involvement in the learning process,” she said. “Sometimes all the testing can kill the joy of learning. We have to have the testing, but we don’t need to put all of our time into it.”
At KTL Stangl introduced a curriculum known as “CORE Knowledge.” This curriculum introduces aspects of education now being minimized or overlooked at many traditional schools such as geography, arts, music, and civics or government. Tied into these courses, which start in kindergarten, students also learn math and sciences and English.
Stangl said while education philosophies have changed, the kids haven’t changed much over the years. “We have dress code issues at our high school campus and we had the same problem when I was in school when we would wear miniskirts,” she said.
When Stangl leaves KTL her legacy will undoubtedly live on.
“She will be hugely missed; she’s always been here and it will be very difficult to fill her shoes,” said Harmon.
But Stangl is quick to say that her staff at KTL is more than ready to move on without her everyday presence.
“They really can do everything and have been doing everything on their own, they know what they are doing and it has made my job much easier,” she said.
Stangl said she is very much looking forward to her retirement, which will begin at the end of this month. She plans to visit her children in the Midwest, and her grandchildren in Florida.
“The thing I will miss most is the people I work with every day and those relationships we’ve built,” she said.